Seeking Names for Bali’s Anonymous Dead

KUTA, Indonesia, Oct. 14, 2002 : ”Identity unknown,” reads a hand-written sign posted on a wall of Bali’s largest hospital. Then comes a description so vivid that it is almost possible to see the carefree young woman dancing, late into the night, just before the bomb went off.

”Girl in intensive care, about five feet two inches,” reads the sign.

”Freckled fair skin, Caucasian, eyes green-brown, slim build, with colored hair (reddish brown), curly. She has a purplish belly-button ring. She is in a coma.

”If you think you may know who she is, please report to the information desk.”

Written in another hand across the bottom of the sign, in large capital letters, are the words, ”Already dead.”

It was the most stunning attack since Sept. 11 last year — a huge car bomb outside a nightclub last Saturday — and Indonesian officials now say it, too, appears to be connected to the terrorist organization Al Qaeda.

But along with the similarities, there are heart-rending differences.

Here in Bali, an island whose name is synonymous with tranquillity and otherworldly beauty, the victims were mostly young travelers in the mornings of their lives. In two packed nightclubs, they were joined, in that last dance, in a celebration of youth, energy and sheer joy.

When a first, small explosion struck, survivors said, some revelers thought it was a fireworks display and kept on dancing. When a second, moments later, knocked them to the floor and covered them with a blanket of flames, more than 180 died and 300 were wounded.

Many were burned beyond recognition. At the World Trade Center in New York, there were names and photographs of the dead and missing, but no bodies. In Bali, scores of people, like the young woman with the purple belly-button ring, died still unidentified.

Two days after the bombing, most of the dead remain anonymous. An official tally lists just 38 who have been identified, from 11 countries.

The list of the missing is far longer, some with identifying characteristics supplied by their friends: ring on thumb; black vest, silver ring and big silver bracelet; hair curly, beard heavy; steel plate in hip; hair in middle of chest.

For many of the badly burned victims, these clues provide the only proof of identity. One young woman was identified by her parents — who like others had flown in to search for their child — by her belt buckle.

The attackers seemed to have picked their target and their moment, near midnight, for maximum destructive effect. The explosives were apparently packed inside a small white truck and their power was so devastating that officials have not yet determined whether a suicide bomber had remained behind the wheel.

Hundreds of people were jammed into nightclubs that faced each other across a narrow street, one of the liveliest spots in Kuta, a resort town that is known to just about every young Australian and every backpacker in the world.

Among them were dozens of members of Australian football teams, celebrating the end of their sports season, some of whom wore their hard-won medals around their necks as they danced.

Rugby teams from around the region were there as well, competing in a 10-sided tournament.

Of 17 mostly British members of the Singapore Cricket Club’s rugby team, three were confirmed dead, four were hospitalized and five remained among the missing.

Five members of the Coogee Dolphins rugby league team, from suburban Sydney, died in the fire. One was missing. Simon Quayle, coach of the Kingsley Senior Football Club, an amateur Australian Rules football team, held out little hope for his team.

”Realistically we expect most, or at least half, of all the blokes, to be located somewhere in that morgue,” he said.

The morgue is a story in itself. With the capacity to store just 10 bodies properly, the hospital has laid scores more along a walkway outside its walls, wrapped in cloth sheets and black plastic bags.

With stocks of the preservative formaldehyde running out, workers are surrounding the bodies with blocks of ice. The hospital has sent out a call for cold-storage containers to hold the dead until they can be claimed.

It was here, behind a makeshift wall of white bedsheets, that John Golotta confirmed that his daughter, Angela, was dead.

”I’ve had to find out this way, by looking at the bodies of all these young people,” he said.

Overnight last night, virtually all the foreign patients were removed from the hospital and flown on special transports to Australia, the country whose young people dominated the dancers at the nightclubs and now dominate the dead. The Indonesian victims remained behind, in hospitals with poorly trained staff and makeshift equipment.

The tally of those who have been identified testifies to Bali’s international appeal as a gathering spot for young foreigners. It includes victims from Indonesia and Australia as well as from Britain, Sweden, Singapore, Ecuador, Holland, France, Germany, Korea and the United States.

Those who survived may have lost their youth forever.

”I keep trying to think, and all I can think is that I’m lucky to be alive,” said a young man who had just begun a post-graduation round-the-world trip with his girlfriend. ”I think we’ll just go home now.”

A young woman who has visited Bali often from Australia said she could not understand how she and her friends could have been the targets of a mass killing.

”It was absolutely pointless,” she said.

Copyright The New York Times